Where’s My PD Networks!

This blog would like to apologize for the lack of content. Apart from the disruption caused by moving we still don’t have an internet connection (or TV or telephone)  at home.

Anyway David Cameron appears to be embarking on a one man effort to rebrand Britain.  I haven’t seen any preparation for this so I expect that the impact will be negligible.  One of the basic ideas in nation-branding is that you have to get the domestic side of the operation on side and I can guarantee that he’s going to get nothing but sarcasm from the UK on this.  There’s a (doubtless inaccurate) story from The Telegraph here plus a conversation with Mark Leonard of Cool Britannia associations and advertising man Dave Trott here.  Keep in mind that Leonard is a Labour supporter. The interesting nugget in The Telegraph piece is that the idea for the campaign is believed to have come from Cameron’s Director of Strategy Steve Hilton who has a reputation for not quality controlling his ideas.

Studies of India and Indian Public Diplomacy

Between the approach of the new semester here and moving house I haven’t had much time to blog but having a bit of a lull for a few minutes..

The other day somebody tweeted a link to the news that the Indian Council for Cultural Relations was setting up a Chair in Contemporary Indian Studies at the University of Edinburgh.   A couple of days ago there was a reference to the Australian prime minister setting up a chair of Australian studies in Beijing.

Promoting the academic study of your country is a venerable public diplomacy tool and one that hasn’t attracted much academic attention with partial exception of American and Canadian studies.  During the Cold War the promotion of American Studies was one tool in the US PD armoury although it now appears to be one that has fallen out of favour so it’s interesting to see what other countries are up to.

As a result I had a dig into what the ICCR was up to.   The Edinburgh Chair  is part of a broader strategy by the Council to develop academic study of India.  A list on the ICCR website identifies 73 posts in 52 countries.

The council uses a model of concluding an agreement with foreign universities under which they host an Indian academic whose salary is paid by the ICCR while the University meets other costs such as health insurance.  This presumably makes hosting one of the Indian chairs quite attractive to the University and gives the Council a high level of control about where these chairs go.  On the other hand it’s quite a costly model for the council.

Evan Potter’s Branding Canada provides a useful summary of Canada’s ‘studies’ programme.  This  has tried to develop the study of Canada by foreign academics in their own countries with the Canadian government supplying much more limited levels of financial support than the Indian approach but also trying to catalyse the development of networks and organizations devoted to the study of Canada.

Potter  sees the development of Canadian Studies as one of the most valuable tools in the arsenal by creating a network of ‘trusted intermediaries’ who are able to explain Canada to their home countries and he gives examples of cases where foreign academics have been able to play significant roles.  At the same time he points to the dangers of too much culture – at points Canadian Studies has been in danger of becoming a literature oriented areas studies ghetto – as result he argues for incorporating Canadian issues into other academic fields.  One success that Potter identifies is in positioning Canada as a strong source of expertise on federalism.   You could argue that India could learn quite a lot from the Canadian model of trying to catalyse foreign studies – as a rising power India will attract increasing attention and it would make sense to build links with that developing field.

Empty Shelves and Institutional Decay at the FCO

A few weeks ago I was rather sarcastic about the fact that I’d bought a copy of Robert Marett’s Through the Back Door that had belonged to the Foreign Office Library.

It turns out that I’m not the only one who is dubious about the  FCO selling off its books

On Thursday William Hague gave a speech ‘The Best Diplomatic Service in the World: Strengthening the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as an Institution’ to staff at the FCO which contained this passage

Finally, as a politician and part time historian I was surprised and indeed shocked upon my arrival here by the sight of the vast expanse of empty wooden shelves where once the 60,000 books, pamphlets, reports and manuscripts of the historic Foreign Office Library were housed, here in this building.

The Library embodied 500 years of British and world history; of our experiences of exploration, diplomacy, war, peacekeeping and the forging of Treaties; of our role in the abolition of the slave trade and the creation of the Commonwealth. It contained unique historical documents such as the 1692 Charter of Massachusetts, many of them annotated by the officials of the time.

Once regarded, in the words of Gladstone’s Foreign Secretary Lord Granville as “the pivot on which the whole machinery of the Foreign Office turned”, it was broken up in 2008 and the collections dispersed, mainly to Kings College London, to whom we should be grateful. This revealed insufficient understanding of the sense of history, continuity, identity and tradition that strong democratic institutions need.

It is ironic that the only object to survive the gutting of the library is a one hundred year old twenty-foot stuffed anaconda known as Albert, who remains suspended over the empty bookshelves, while the books from the period when such an unusual foreign gift found its way into the Foreign Office have been dismantled around it, and can never be reassembled. To my mind the fate of the FCO library is emblematic of a gradual hollowing out of the qualities that made the FCO one of our great institutions.

I recently read Hugh Heclo’s On Thinking Institutionally (discussed by David Brooks in this New York Times column) where he makes the point that contemporary political thought and practice tends to reflexively favour individuals over institutions and reflects on the damage that this causes . As the title suggests Hague’s speech is very much in this vein and marks a very different perspective from the emphasis on ‘modernization’ characteristic of the last government.   However, I suspect that this is very much Hague speaking from his own perspective rather than marking a change in the overarching philosophy of British  public administration.

Heclo, H. (2008) On Thinking Institutionally. Boulder  Colo.: Paradigm.

How Much Has The US Image in the Middle East Changed?

The past decade has seen lots of opinion polling on attitudes towards the United States around the world and particularly in the Middle East.  This has allowed the public diplomacy community to agonize about what is to be done and now it’s allowing Republicans and Democrats to beat each other over the head about the foreign policies of the Bush and Obama administrations.  Has Obama led to an improvement or a decline in America’s position?

The question that occurs to me though is does anyone have any pre 9/11 polling on perceptions of the US in Middle East countries?

Assessing opinion in 2003 or 2006 or 2009 against attitudes immediately after 9/11 is misleading in that we would expect  9/11 to create an upsurge in approval in the same way that a natural disaster would. The normal expectation in opinion polling is that the impact of single events will ebb over time and that other things being equal underlying sources of opinion will reassert themselves.

Hence a better reference point for changes in the image of the US might be perceptions in the autumn of 2000 rather than of 2001. My hypothesis would be that  the post 9/11 ratings were unsustainably high and that ratings a decade later, as the Bush Administration and the invasion of Iraq recede, are probably in the same ball park to where they had been if anyone had bothered to do the polling then.

If anyone can point to me to any pre 9/11 polling I’m more than ready to be proved wrong




R.S. Zaharna on Diplomacy and Relations

Over at Battles2Bridges Rhonda Zaharna is exploring the links between relational public diplomacy and the historical forms of diplomacy.  I think that this is an extremely promising avenue  of investigation.

A couple of thoughts

The links that Rhonda makes are important because it’s possible to construct two different genealogies of public diplomacy.  The first of these, the more common one in the US and the UK, tells the story of public diplomacy in terms of the development of an evolution of propaganda and psychological warfare from the World Wars to the Cold War and the War on Terror.*  A second genealogy sees the growing prominence of PD as part of the expansion of diplomacy over the last two centuries.  Seeing PD as part of the story of diplomacy helps to explain the growth of PD activities across numerous countries which don’t share the Anglo-American history.  Making the link with diplomacy it unlocks a different set of intellectual resources.

The other comment is the relational vs messaging distinction is a useful shorthand  that captures different approaches to how public diplomacy is done.  It is a distinction that maps quite closely onto the ‘informationalist’ vs ‘culturalist’ approaches that existed within the American PD establishment (see for instance Arndt 2005) or in the UK between the FCO and the British Council.  However,  it’s possible to make too much of this distinction.  It blurs the fact that effective messaging often depends on the careful cultivation of relationships – for instance between the information officers and journalists and that one of the things that relationships let you do is spread messages.   This is one of the reasons for my enthusiasm for relational sociology and network approaches.  These provide conceptual and research tools that allow us to think about what mean by relationships and their relative importance.   I think that these approaches also offer insights into newer modes of doing public diplomacy, for instance the embrace of coalition building with different types of actors as a political tool rather than a cultural strategy or the question of the extent to which social media should be been seen in terms of messaging or relations.

*Susan Carruthers (2005) has a nice take on the way that links between the practice of psychological warfare and its study have continued to shape academic studies of propaganda.

Arndt, R.T. (2005) The First Resort of Kings: American Cultural Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century. Washington  D.C.: Potomac Books.

Carruthers, S.I. (2005) ‘Propaganda, Communications and Public Opinion’, pp. 189-222 in P. Finney (ed) Palgrave Advances in International History, Basingstoke: Palgrave.






The Heritage Foundation on the Objectives for US Strategic Communication

Last week Helle Dale at the Heritage Foundation posted a piece about the progress of the US Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communication within the State Department.

Within the post Dale offers a list of six priorities that should be used by Congress to measure the Administration’s progress on strategic communication and public diplomacy.   In looking at this list I was struck by the way that it mixed up different types of objectives.  In talking about PD a greater degree of precision would be helpful.

Here’s the list followed by my comments in italics.

  • Responding rapidly to misinformation.  The Digital Outreach Team needs to counter anti-American conspiracy theories in Pakistan and elsewhere.  The U.S. government badly needs the rapid response capability to counter enemy propaganda and other misinformation.  The cumbersome clearance process within the State Department is antithetical to the concept of rapid response, which means that this capability may better be housed in another agency—NCTC, for instance.
  • Previous research has pointed to the length of time that the DOT can take to respond to posting so streamlining the process seems like a good idea.  Also speed of response provides an objective metric.  But how important is the DOT in  countering misinformation in Pakistan given relatively low internet penetration?
  • Combating radical Islamism.  The U.S. needs to craft an official anti-Islamist narrative that can help discredit the ideology of jihad against non-Muslims.  In order to do this, analysts need a better understanding of the narratives that motivate young Muslims to become radicalized.  Both the Pentagon’s Office of Information Support (formerly psychological operations) and the CSCC are doing work in this area.
  • This doesn’t have a specific objective attached.  This is an area where great importance is attached to the idea of the narrative.  I’m not convinced that there is a single narrative and that this is worthy of being made a key objective? 
  • Aiding Iran’s Green Movement.  U.S. agencies should spotlight Tehran’s past assassination campaigns against opposition leaders in exile, as well as its continued financial support of terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah while the Iranian people are increasingly impoverished. These are classic public diplomacy targets.
  • This is turning a specific message into an objective – it seems a bit strange.   Who are the targets for this message?  Is this a specific counterterrorism message rather than a general PD message.
  • Formulating a multi-tiered Internet freedom strategy. The U.S. should go beyond funding for Internet circumvention technology and should mount a strong push for international cooperation through a coalition of nations willing to stand up for freedom of expression
  • Clearly this isn’t a job for the CSCC rather it’s an overall foreign policy objective.
  • Securing broadcast cooperation. The U.S. should work with the Broadcasting Board of Governors to make international broadcasting part of an integrated government-wide U.S. counterterrorism communications strategy. The firewall established by the U.S. International Broadcasting Act of 1994 between State and BBG to ensure editorial independence for the broadcasters has turned into a detriment in terms of resource allocation and lack of congressional oversight.
  •  The argument over US international broadcasting and its link to PD is  a very old one.  Dale is taking one side and Kim Andrew Elliott is taking the other side that international broadcasting is an autonomous function.  My comment is that if you were going to come down on the ‘broadcasting is PD’ side of the argument it would make more sense to subordinate it to an overall vision of PD not to a single element, counterterrorism, of the overall programme. 

It makes sense to set clear objectives for PD work but that objective setting process has to take into account where responsibility for different activities sit.  Part of doing this is being clear about the place of PD within foreign policy and the place of counterterrorism within foreign policy and public diplomacy.  There’s more to PD than counterterrorism and forgetting that is not helpful to America’s reputation.



Public Diplomacy and The English School

I haven’t posted any gratuitous retro-International Relations theory posts for a while.  So here’s a question does public diplomacy have a theory of international relations?

We normally discuss PD as an exercise in applied communication but what does it mean in terms of international relations.

The English School of International Relations Theory (Hedley Bull, Martin Wight, CAW Manning, Herbert Butterfield)  loves to divide everything into three schools of thought which are variously labelled Realist /Rationalist /Revolutionist or Machiavellian/Grotian/Kantian or  were associated with the concepts of international system/international society/world society.

To stereotype:  realists believe that international relations is an amoral battle for survival, revolutionists want to replace the state-system with something better while rationalists think the state system is pretty good and should be seen as an international society rather than just as an international system, that is states have a shared interest in preserving the international order and this moderates the tendency to pursue their interests on a purely short term basis.  The  English School  is distinguished by its embrace of international society and its rejection of either power politics or utopianism.  The system of diplomacy is a key institution of international society

You can look at PD through any of these three lenses.  As an exercise in diplomacy PD would fit very much with rationalist view, it is about the amelioration of international relations and the strengthening of the mechanisms of international governance.  While PD is often conducted by states in situations of conflict and competition (which might lead you to expect a realist dynamic to be at work) the questions of credibility and reputation tend to push towards an enlightened self interest that is very much consistent with a rationalist world view.   But at least at a rhetorical level  there is a revolutionist strand running through PD .  Public diplomacy is constructed in opposition to elitist diplomacy and thus can imply a movement towards a world society model.  ‘Internet freedom’ somehow suggests something beyond a states-system

Of course the English School’s tripartite division is only one of many ways of looking at visions of world politics.  Particularly in looking at American foreign policy discourse I’m reminded of Kenneth Waltz’s division of theories of conflict in Man, The State and War  into those that locate conflict in human nature, the domestic political organization of states or the nature of the international system.  It’s the second of these that tends to exercise influence on political discourse with its message that the way to limit conflict is to change other people’s governments.

Although we often discuss public diplomacy as a matter of strategy the first step of strategy is to define the desired end state.  But for major powers anyway part of that end state should be about the nature of the international order that their diplomacy will contribute to.  Day to day public diplomacy deals with particular groups, networks and individuals but it is also important to keep the big picture in mind.  That big picture is not just the overall image of the country but the image of the preferred international order.

This is an issue that is returning to the agenda with the rise of the BRICs. These are countries that share a commitment to the norms of the Westphalian order: sovereignty and non-intervention but  at the same time Western countries to a greater (Europe) or lesser (the US)  extent are embracing a post-Westphalian agenda of global governance and human rights.  Over the period since the end of the Cold War Western countries have tended to treat this agenda as self evident.  The rising importance of the BRICs means that this case has to be made in a different environment and in a way which takes into account the perspectives and interests of a new set of countries.